Sunday, December 23, 2007


To make love to a stranger is the best.

There is no riddle and there is no test -

To lie and love, not aching to make sense

Of this night in the mesh of reference.

To touch, unclaimed by fear of imminent day,

And understand, as only strangers may.

To feel the beat of foreign heart to heart

Preferring neither to prolong nor part.

To rest within the unknown arms and know

That this is all there is; that this is so.

Not mine. Vikram Seth's. Exquisite.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Denver Paaji !

I walked into Music Station, a place selling music and film CD’s and DVD’s. I was there to return the Bhool Bhulaiyya CD I had rented the day before. There were two people already at the counter, and I waited for my turn, looking at the various shelves having a host of movie discs on show.

On the other side of the shop, standing aside the pair of headphones and the couple of music CD’s you can listen to for trial, were two typical Haryanvi Jats – tall, burly and with an air of unmistakable menace around them. One of them had the headphones to his ears, while the other was going through the adjoining shelf.

“Paaji! Aap yeh gaana suno….paagal ho jayoge aap!”, cried the first one, suddenly.

“Achha ji? Lao!”, replied the other, and took over the headphones.

A few moments later, he handed them back.

“Denver hai na yeh?”

“Haan ji…aapne suna hoga yeh gaana pehle…”

“Haan suna hai….teri gaadi mein hi kaafi baar”

“Magical voice hai ji, is bande ki….”


The man on the headphones now went on to listen to the song with sheer delight on his face, almost dancing along with the tune. He was singing as well, and his voice was as horrible as horrible could be, but I got enough words from them to recognise the song –

“Country roaaaaaaaaaaaadddds, take me hommmmmmmmmme
To the plaaaaaaaaace, I beloooooooooooong
West virginiaaaaaaaaaa, mountain mommmmmmmaaaaaaaa
Take me hommmmmmmmmme, country roaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadddds !”

“What a voice, yaar, what a voice!”, he finally concluded, putting the headphones down.

It was amazing, to see two of these so-typical desi Haryanvis, whom I had seen previously only as local kirana shop owners, traffic policeman or bus drivers (and found it hard to associate them with anything else), to be discussing John Denver at a posh music store.

And then when I thought about it, I discovered that this is exactly what Gurgaon has to offer, which is different from all other places in India.

Here, you have desi Jats enjoying Denver and other western artists, big, over-sized aunties going about in fashionable, obscene-looking, designer trousers, and teenagers, ‘cool dudes and dudettes’, all dressed to kill, enjoying their evening out at expensive coffee parlours.

It is fascinating, when not slightly irritating.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Stream Kya Hai ?

He was a heavily moustached, heavily built man of medium height. We shared the same coupe on the Ashram Express from Ahmedabad to Delhi. It was seven in the morning, there were at least three hours before the train reached its destination, and it was out of boredom, and boredom alone, that this man had started asking me questions of no or little significance to him.

I had been sitting on the lower berth since 4 A.M., numbly looking at passing stations, unable to withstand the blast of the air-conditioner while trying to sleep on the top berth. The cooling system had been strengthened especially after Jaipur, to leave the coach feeling like Simla, and even three blankets, one stacked over the other, weren’t enough to help me forget that fact.

The man had joined me at around six thirty, and sat down, looking out with a stoned expression on his face. Then, after some time, getting out of his trance, he took out two packets of manufactured bhujia from his handbag. He offered them to me, and when I refused (because I wasn’t keen on taking my hands out from my jacket pocket, more than any other reason), he insisted, and did so repeatedly, until a vocal, assertive “No, no” from me silenced him finally.

After about two minutes of silence, he then asked me if I was a student. When I said I was, he stared casually at me for a while, munching away, as if trying to decipher the meaning of the encrypted piece of information I had just communicated to him.

“Ahmedabad mein?”


“Kaun sa college?”

“DA-IICT. Dhirubhai Ambani……”


“Haan. Engineering”

“ Wo to Reliance ka hai na? Aapki naukri to wahi lagti hogi?”

And for the 572nd time since I’d been an engineering student at DA-IICT, I explained that there were other companies that came for placements, that the people absorbed by Reliance formed a very small percentage.

He seemed slow at taking in this answer as well, and there was another pause of about two minutes.

“Stream kya hai?”

And as on countless train journeys and family meetings before, I had to explain to him that I was doing a B.Tech. in ICT, what it meant and what exactly the course structure was like.

He listened attentively, nodding quite vigorously in between, trying to show that he understood. After having taken the almost mandatory few minutes’ silence again, he began to speak, now about his family. His way of pausing between questions had an unsettling effect on me – every time he became quiet, I felt glad at being left alone finally, only to have him start another line of conversation a few moments later.

“Mera bhatija…wo bhi engineering kar raha hai…wo jo college hai na…err…err…Nirma.”

“Oh Nirma…”


(A shorter spell of silence this time, of about 20 seconds)

“Uske board mein achhe number aaye the….”


“Mera bhatija…10th mein 90-95 percent laaya tha….12th mein 80-82 aaye the…”

I nodded. Solemnly.

He went on to tell me about his entire range of bhatijas and bhatijis then, how much they had scored in the various examinations they had given, how talented they were, and what they were doing with their lives as of now.

After a little time, about half an hour, I realised that seeing me listening to him attentively, he felt encouraged to tell me more, to carry on with his discourse on where his family stood professionally.

It was rather weird; to see this man whom I’d known for just a couple of hours, when we hadn’t even exchanged names, to talk to me about his entire family, about their goals and aspirations, about what he thought about them, it confused me, it made me feel uncomfortable, and I wanted to end it. Yet courtesy allowed nothing else.

But with conscious effort, I tried to look less attentive - nodded less, looked out of the window more, fiddled around with my handbag. He was initially slow at taking in this clue as well, but he finally did, and then gradually assumed silence. I was relieved; the rest of the trip passed without any further dialogue.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Modern Mela

Mr. Seth adjusted his tie, pushing the knot to the right just that little bit. As had always been his habit, he wanted everything absolutely perfect before he left the house. The coat was spot clean, the trousers as well pressed as they could possibly be and the black shoes shone gloriously. The shirt, however, did have a light yellow spot on the left arm, but that also would be hidden away with the coat. Anyway, there was no other option, the rest of the shirts were either dirty or in the laundry.

She would have hated this! “Sit at home if you don’t have a clean pair”, she would have said. But who’s watching now?

It had been nine days since Mr. Seth had arrived in Delhi at his son’s place. The inertia with which he had spent all the years following his wife’s death at their Kanpur residence had finally been broken by his son’s repeated insistence to give him a visit. Realising that he could not put off the trip any longer, he had agreed on a two-week stay.

He was more than half way into it now and the big city hadn’t made much sense to him. It was a circus existence, too busy with itself, without any time for an old, simple, retired bank manager like himself. Kanpur was better, with the huge balcony, the open garden, friends and her name written all over the place. Nevertheless, living here was an experience in itself, one which had to be had. There were things to admire here, the wide roads, the tall buildings, the new state-of-the-art malls. Yes, the malls! That’s what Mr. Seth intended to see today.

Anil and Priya had promised to take him shopping one of these days. But they hardly seemed to stay home, leave alone taking him out. Both left early morning and came back late, after which they seemed too exhausted to do anything else but eat and sleep. Even the only Sunday that could possibly have been used for an outing was spent with Anil on the laptop. How much do these corporate firms make you work? Can’t you even have one day left to yourself, even one Sunday?

Mr. Seth eventually decided to make the trip himself. It was two in the afternoon, he had had his lunch and there were at least six hours before Anil and Priya returned from office. Going at this time had an added advantage – there wouldn’t be too much of a crowd at the malls. So, he gave his tie another look in the mirror, and when satisfied fully with the symmetry of the knot, picked up his phone, his purse, the keys of the flat and left.

It was December, and though the sun was out, Mr. Seth felt glad that he had brought the coat along. The mall that had just come up, Anil had told him, was just a kilometre away from the flat, opposite to the central market. I’ll walk, these legs still good enough. Mr. Seth walked past the fruit and vegetable shops, the petrol pump, and turned right for the mall.

The entrance of the building looked singularly spectacular. Huge advertisement posters of movie stars and models hung on either side, and in between was an electronic display flashing the latest news in red. The crowd, unexpectedly, was substantial. Even on a weekday? Even at this hour? Mr. Seth pushed open the glass door and went inside, passing through the automated security check.

The sight inside was nothing short of spectacular as well. The structure was of a longish rectangle, with three stories, screaming out a countless number of brands. The huge posters were inside too, on the far side of a white girl dressed in corporate attire, holding a mobile phone quite provocatively with its flap open. Mr. Seth could sight some benches positioned just a few feet away, he decided to sit for a little while and give his limbs some rest.

There was an ice-cream shop near the benches and he saw a couple asking their two sons which flavour they would like to have. One opted for butter-scotch while the other for chocolate. Having taken the ice-creams and paid the money, the couple proceeded to sit on the bench opposite Mr. Seth. They looked distinctly Punjabi, the man tall and stout, the woman wearing a shiny salwar-kameez and bangles up to her elbow. The children, having got what they wanted, started to wander off in random directions. When the woman noticed that keeping an eye on them wasn’t going to be easy in the crowd, she called out – “Sanju Pintu come back to Mamma. There there! See the ice-cream’s all over your shirts!”. And although the ice-cream wasn’t quite on their shirts yet, Sanju and Pintu came back to Mamma obediently.

After a while, Mr. Seth got up and walked further to the end of the rectangle. Right in the middle of the ground floor, he could see Barista, a coffee-shop which offered a whole lot more than just coffee. One look at the prices was enough to convince him that a stop here wasn’t really going to prove lucrative. Oh God! Is the Chocolate Truffle topped with jewels or does one of every twenty Café Frappes contain a diamond at the bottom of the cup? Having given the prices a long-enough, satisfactory stare, he then decided to explore the other floors.

The other floors were pretty much the same. All the difference they provided was in the name of the brands, selling everything from cosmetics to music discs. He could see a couple of teenagers trying out a pair of sport shoes at Reebok, typical ‘high-society’ women flipping through all the salwar-kameezs on offer at a designer clothes outlet, people munching noodles at Yo China!, talking animatedly to each other behind glass walls. The atmosphere, overall, resembled celebration, of each celebrating the power of choices with oneself. What if I stood in the middle and screamed at the top of my voice? Would anyone notice? Let alone noticing, would they even hear me? And if Mr. Seth had expected something different on the top floor, it wasn’t to be. The place was largely occupied as a gaming zone, offering everything from bowling to video games. People of all ages seemed to throng especially to the bowling area, where a queue of at least fifteen people awaited their turn to get inside. The only other places except these were PVR Cinemas and Haldiram’s. And having been lured by the familiarity of the name, Mr. Seth decided to take away something from the food outlet.

Haldiram’s itself was stacked up to the maximum, in fact more than any other restaurant he had seen before. It looked like a hall-sized mela, where two hundred hungry people had been shoved in and asked to “Please Accommodate”. Looking at the counter queue, it wasn't going to be easy getting a Butter Milk for himself. I am here now, so I might as well take something. So, he joined the line, waited for around five minutes and having taken the chit for the milk, proceeded towards the food counter. There were two men there, taking the chits from the hungry folk and returning with the desired items. Mr. Seth, not quite in the age to go barging, putting his chit in front, waited while the younger ones had been satisfied. The only consolation in all this was that the Butter Milk was of very good quality, almost, just almost worth its cost of forty rupees.

Now convinced that he had seen all there was to see, Mr. Seth decided to leave. And having successfully negotiated the challenging escalators he had previously experienced only at airports, reached the ground floor again. Just then, he spotted, in between all the hullabaloo and crowd, something called the Om Book Shop. What is a book shop doing here, at this circus? And glad that he had finally found something to suit his taste, he decided to give the place a visit too.

Nor did it disappoint him. The place was noisier than book shops normally are, and a lot more crowded. But in terms of size and the variety offered, it was easily the biggest of its kind that he had ever seen. In a corner near the entrance, there were magazines displayed, almost all of which had names he hadn’t heard of before. Probably imported. And beyond that, he saw rows and rows of books, dealing with almost everything – fiction, lifestyle, health, travel, cuisines. The sheer enormity of the place overwhelmed Mr. Seth, and he found himself tempted to pick up a book and sit on one of the chairs kept in the middle. It was only because he could not decide on the one thing to read that prevented him from doing so, and he finally decided to leave.

It was almost evening now, and the crowd outside was beginning to thicken, as if it wasn’t thick enough already. Mr. Seth, gave the place one last look from outside, admiring its enormity more than anything else, and then walked past the petrol pump, the fruit and vegetable shops to his flat.

The house inside felt abnormally quiet. Anything would, after coming from the place I’ve been to. He suddenly found himself tired, mentally more than physically. All the noise and crowd had taken a toll on the old man. So, he had two glasses of water, changed his clothes and decided to get some sleep for a couple of hours.

Evening came. And so did Anil and Priya. For some reason which even he couldn’t sum up, he decided not to tell them about his little trip to the modern mela.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Patiya Ma

When my mother was a kid, there was a maid who used to live with her at my grandparents’ place. She did the cleaning and washing for the house, and also looked after the children when my grandparents were away. She stayed with my family for about ten years, returning to her village home when my mother moved out after her marriage.

Everyone called her Patiya Ma. I don’t really know what her real name was, and what Patiya means, if anything.

Anyway, some years ago, on a visit to our village, my mother and I went to meet Patiya Ma at her place. Patiya Ma now lived alone, her children having deserted her with all the money after her husband’s death. She had a house, but it hardly could have been called so. It was a kachcha makaan, with a tin roof placed on top to prevent sunlight from coming in. She herself showed no sign of well-being, old, wrinkled and thin.

All I remember of Patiya Ma from the brief meeting is she squatting on the ground, hands joined together, wearing a worried expression on her face. She said she wanted to die, and when my mother asked her why, her reply with a faint, twisted smile was “Jiyab ta ki ki nai dekhab”, which translates roughly as “If I live, god knows what more I’m destined to see”.

She repeated this line after almost every thing she talked about – her family, her health, her shortage of cash.


But why am I writing about it? What’s the point?

It’s just that for the last few days, when I’ve been having all kinds of examination papers dished out at me, when I’m feeling utterly helpless trying to cope up with it, when the world seems to leave no chance to annoy, trounce and demoralise me, I feel suddenly reminded of Patiya Ma and her favourite words.

Jiyab ta ki ki nayi dekhab.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Another Dark Man

Gurgaon Railway Station. I have just got off my train from Ahmedabad. As I keep the luggage on the back seat of my car parked just outside, I feel my throat dry. I walk over to the market opposite to the station to get a bottle of mineral water.

The scene here deserves special mention. This is old Gurgaon, not the sort of place you associate with the name, poles apart from its savvy incarnation. There are no malls here, no six-lane highways, no high-rise apartments.

Instead, there are narrow and dusty roads, a bunch of innumerable estate agencies and liquor shops, cows and pigs. For all you know, this could have been your local village bazaar. There is also the sun right above, putting on the heat. Everyone around looks busy with himself, typical mid-day time market scene.

Amidst all this, on the narrow road divider, there lies a grey-white cement sack, and a man. The man is dark, and very thin. He is wearing a white shirt and a dark blue lungi. He lies there in a very peculiar position, as if he had first dropped down on his knees and then, had suddenly dived head down into the sack. His face is buried deep into the cement, the sides covered by his hands which seem to be holding the hair above his ears.

For some reason, he looks annoyed, angry. He looks annoyed with his world, like a child would be with his mother if denied a bar of chocolate. Something about his demeanour suggests that he is determined, very sure about the fact that unless his world comes up to him personally, gives him his bar of chocolate, and apologises, he won’t move an inch. He’ll stay right there all day, with his head buried in that sack, like an angry, spoilt child.

The world, meanwhile, gives a yawn. No one takes notice of the man. The sun above shines its November shine.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Game Of Mutual Favours

They finally decided on a game of Mutual Favours.

It was the final resort after about one month of general dingling-dangling. Nothing else seemed to have worked so far. Conversations still ended abruptly, arguments ensued over petty issues, and tension loomed large over the entire household, like an albatross. The apparent misunderstanding and distrust in each other had reached such huge proportions that one hardly felt comfortable in asking the other for even ordinary help. So much so, that He didn’t even ask her for a glass of water when he had a headache last Friday. He preferred walking over the kitchen himself and fetching it even while She was in the adjoining room, only a shout away.

This, as expected, made living under the same roof very difficult and uncomfortable. It was as if for all practical purposes, each was living alone with the other’s ghost. And having observed all attempts to better the existing situation fail miserably, She was the one who ultimately suggested this particular game to him.

The rules of the game were as follows:

  1. Each was to ask the other for every help they needed, big or small.
  2. If the other had agreed to help, his or her doing so would count as a favour to the other person.
  3. Each favour one did the other on that particular day would be recorded on the white board hung on the kitchen door. There would be two columns made, one for favours done by He and one for favours done by She.
  4. Before going to sleep every night, the number of favours done by each for the other was to be totalled and written below the corresponding column.
  5. If the Favour Count for the day for both wasn’t equal, then the one who had done less favours had to compensate for it on the following day.
  6. Each Favour Deficit would be carried on to the coming days, as backlog.
  7. Even actions which helped both like bringing the vegetables for dinner or paying the electricity bill would count as favours.

The rules of the game agreed upon, He and She decided to start playing from the next day. On the first morning, He asked her to make tea for him. She made it for herself too but as per the rules, that counted as a favour. Nor did she forget that; she was quick enough to make an entry, inaugurating the white board. She, in turn, asked him to fetch the newspaper from the main door and He was happy enough to have one entry to his credit too. Nothing else happened the rest of the morning. Each made their own breakfast, corn flakes, milk and sugar, not requiring any help from the other.

Evening arrived. Both reached home within fifteen minutes of each other, completely exhausted. He asked her to make tea again for him, to which she solemnly agreed. He, meanwhile got the Marie Gold biscuits and namkeen out to have along with the tea. 1-1 so far. Once it was decided that paneer was to be had for dinner, he brought it from the Mother Dairy store close by. She, on the other hand made dinner for both of them. At night, He prepared the bed, folded the removed bed sheets and put them in the closet. And finally, before going to bed, each tallied their list of favours. For the record, He had beaten She 4-3 on the first day.

Days passed, the white board wiped every morning to give space for a new list of favours. Backlogs also took place for both at times, were brought to zero by heightened effort, and then finally turned to backlogs for the other. That is, on days when the backlog for one was quite a lot, he or she acted doubly kind than he or she actually was, helping the other with almost everything, eager to bring things to zero again. On those days, the other would have a wonderful time, with absolutely no useful work to do, only to find himself or herself in debt by the end of the day.

But after about ten or twelve days of playing this game, both found making entries on the board a very boring and inconvenient exercise. Walking over to the kitchen, just to make an entry in your column was quite effort-taking in itself. So by consensus, they decided that serving the other with drinks, making the bed and other such small tasks could be avoided mention. Now, entries would only be made and favours would only be counted if the work was substantial enough, either in terms of time or effort.

Also, with the passage of time, the entire game started looking rather silly and childish. The thought of playing Mutual Favours between themselves seemed idiotic more than anything else, when one considered that they were still Husband and Wife. The prime example of such a feeling was when She fetched him a glass of water in the middle of the night once, when He had suddenly got up holding his head, wincing in pain. He never asked for it but She brought him the water and Crocin anyway. When He asked her to update her table with this latest favour, She just stroked his chin and said that it was hardly necessary.

So as one is bound to expect, one thing led to another. With every passing day, more and more activities ceased to be seen as favours, seen now only as duties a man and a woman must perform quietly to keep the house running. The day came when entries were forgotten and many favours were done out of goodwill and affection. Slowly and steadily, the board ceased to be of any use at all. But none of them dared to move it from its position on the kitchen door. Conversations might still have ended abruptly, arguments might still have ensued over petty issues and tension still might not have left the household, but the board reminded each of the fact that all the above was no excuse to stop caring for each other, to stop loving, to stop existing as Husband and Wife.

Therefore, the game of Mutual Favours was a draw. It was a draw, such in which both sides had triumphed.

The author drew inspiration for this short piece from A Temporary Matter, one of the short stories in Jhumpa Lahiri's debut book, The Interpreter Of Maladies. He uses the word 'inspiration' and the reader is expected to take it as that only.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Simple Things

Sid dear had been very kind to tag me in his last post. And as I’ve nothing better to write on right now (going through a dearth of ideas, as the sophisticated novelist would put it), I choose to elaborate on his crappy topic. I choose to make it even crappier.

Be sure to refer to his piece before you have a look at mine.

If you don’t do so, you might end up taking me for a bored, sadistic idiot, something that I might actually be but something I would rather not confide to you.

So here it is!


At the age of 21, you are neither a kid nor a man. You are somewhere in between those two states, unsure about yourself, about what you must retain and what you must change. Self-obsessively lost in your endeavour to make this transition peaceful and coherent, you forget the little things that you used to do earlier, things that gave you great joy in the past and those which you might be embarrassed to execute now. Now, that you are unsure.

Well ‘Keep It Simple’, as the old clichéd saying goes. In an attempt to do the same, I shall now make a list of small things that you might have loved doing in the past and which you must try doing from here on -

1) Fight with your kid sister – Ah! Remember the last time your sister and you tried pulling each other’s hair out, and having been frustrated doubly by your eventual inability to do so, satisfied your desire to inflict pain with a big thump or two on the back? Deeply satisfying, wasn’t it? You’d never realise how much so it was, but once you start doing it again, you’ll relive the same boundless joy you felt the first time. After all, this was your personal home version of the Fight Club!

By the way, you can fight with your kid brother as well, if you don’t have a sister. The joytitude would be almost the same, I presume.

2) The Knock-knock bluff – This is something I used to do a lot as a kid. On days when we friends didn’t get the bat and ball to play with, to pass time, we rang the bell of any house in our locality and then disappeared into some nook or corner waiting for the response of the person who opened the door. More often than not, the flat chosen was of the Uncle or Aunty who was the most khadoos (the ones who scolded us before giving the ball back when a sixer reached their terrace) and it was immensely satisfying watching him/her annoyed at finding no one at the door. Also, if the person was someone who had actually never returned a ball that had reached his/her terrace, we rang the bell multiple times till each one of us was convinced that that particular ball-eater had been given ample punishment.

3) Mixing colours in the water tanker – This is something you can attempt during Holi. After four or five hours of mutual decoration, when the people in your apartment have retired to their bathrooms to wash their vividly colourful selves, you and your friend can go to the terrace and pour colours into the water tanker. People dying to get the much needed bath would be aghast to find red, blue and green coming out of the taps. I’m sure that would annoy the Uncles and Aunties no limit, which is again something that is sure to give you stupendous joy and satisfaction.

That’s just three. The Dearth of Ideas Syndrome again. Well anyway, you can add an idea or two of your own here. The rule is simple and easy to remember: Anything that gives others agony will give you joy! Do such simple things and you would find yourself becoming a child again, happier and less caught-up.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Thoughts & Smoke

He always smokes in his room, sitting on the chair lining up music on the computer, or on the bed, lying down, staring at the ceiling, or standing at the window, looking out. Like the places, the moods vary too, from extremely upbeat to extremely melancholic and everything else that lies in between these two celebrated states.

His thoughts come out in fumes from his mouth, gently oozing out, reaching different parts of the room. The smoke is the carrier, his dwellings are the carried. That is to say, if you look closely enough, you’ll see him missing his home and his mother on top of the suitcase on the almirah, covered in a grey, thick layer of dust. If you observe the cobwebs in the corner of the room minutely, you’ll see locked between the shreds, him having second thoughts about his angry outburst the other day. And if you happen to look underneath the bed, you might just be surprised to find a few dreams – some nurtured and some murdered.

Etc Etc.

So in this way, everything that he thinks about stays close; it doesn’t disappear, drifting away from reach. It stays close, within two or three metres of where he stands, sits or lies. And in this little thought fortress he lives, like a king guarding all he has.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mr. India

What if when on a walk down the street, you were to meet India - the man? How would you recognize him? What will he look like and what sort of person will he be?

Let’s see.


Without the shadow of a doubt, he would be a man of huge build, roundabout seven feet tall, conspicuously rising above every other person around. But even for a man so tall, he would look rather smallish, as if the lord above had tried to put too much into that seven feet frame. The muscles on his body would bulge rather awkwardly, almost as if it wasn’t being able to hold them intact anymore, as if the flesh would tear the skin and come out anytime now, as if it was too heavily packed.

The body would not make any sense at all as a whole. It’ll look as if different parts of it had been taken from totally different individuals, and then put together to make one continuous piece. The left hand might be shorter than the right, one part of the body might have a lot more hair than the others, and the legs might be too thin for a man with such bulky arms. To put it in a nutshell, the body would give a rather incongruous look.

Several parts of his body would give the appearance that they don’t actually belong there, that they were striving to cut off from the main, that they wished to be independent. One of the arms or legs might just be hanging precariously, as if it was almost ready to fall off, as if Mr. India was just barely managing to hold on to it. Such complexities would of course be a cause of great worry and even pain for the man. There would a constant wince on his face, he would always look to be in great distress.

As far as his mental framework is concerned, he could be called A Psychiatrist’s Delight. A one-in-a-trillion sort of man. Quite obviously, a person with such unique physical characteristics wouldn’t be completely relaxed in the head. In fact, with such remarkable variety inherent, he would be someone totally confused about his identity, about what he really is. As mentioned before, his mind and body would make no sense as a whole and he would spend hours, days, months, years, and decades trying to give some meaning to it, to find his ‘identity’.

He would also be a man totally clueless about his past. He’ll remember the events alright, and he might take great pride in the victories he’s had over other individuals and feel deep shame over his innumerable defeats, but would not able to pinpoint why things happened as they did. In fact, a closer look would tell you that he is not even interested in learning about that, that he is close to being completely ignorant about himself. Whatever conceptions he has about the past might just be nonsense, something just jumped to without proper thought or reasoning. He might even tell you that he was once called the The Golden Boy by his friends at school, but that might actually be something only his mother called him to make him feel happy. On the other hand, there might be truth in his claim but you would find it rather hard to believe seeing his present state.

As far as the present and future go, he would tell you that his condition is far better than what it was some time ago. He would say that things are getting better for him by the day and people in his neighbourhood have started acknowledging his presence around the place. He would tell you that his financial condition might not be fantastic as of now, but his business is moving in the right direction and things are bound to get rosier. The only thing bothering him is his health, he would say, the unique assortment of body parts, the various components always threatening to slide away.

All in all, he would be a man like no other. One thing that you could say with sureness about him is that he’ll be a singularly kind man, the sort anyone would like to become friends with. He might not be the strongest, or the largest, or the most intelligent person around and he certainly won’t be the richest of them, but he’ll be unique, a subject of envy to his neighbours and of great awe and wonder to everyone else.

As said before, Mr. India would be A Psychiatrist’s Delight. A one-in-a-trillion sort of man.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My Own Little Museum

My room is a museum of sorts. Only a very dirty, disorganised one. This is how it looked about a month ago and I daresay it still looks the same, if not worse.

And as I’ve always wanted to give the place an ‘exotic’ look, there is a lot of stuff borrowed, or shall I say incorporated, from outside too. Like –

1) KJ’s red-and-black Bridgestone bag – That worked its way into my life about a year back and to its credit, has been able to find itself a nice permanent spot in here, next to the almirah, on the floor. K had been kind enough to give it to me for a Diwali trip back home and for no apparent reason, she never got it back.

2) KJ’s white socks – I really feel no shame at all in telling you folks that I borrowed a pair of grey-white socks from a girl. It happened on a cold November evening last year, when K seeing me shivering rather violently in my Bata slippers, took pity and gifted me the pair with warmth-filled tears in her eyes.(Though she later claimed that she merely lent it, didn’t gift it, but you know whom to believe, don’t you?)

3) GA’s Walkman – The thing is a bit scary. It looks like something straight out of Star Wars, with a shiny blue body and silver outlines. Very techno, if you know what I mean.

And that’s not the only reason it’s scary. Once I pushed the PLAY button and I heard a man speaking, as if for an interview. There was a lot of disturbance on the tape but I was attentive enough to catch some words like – communist, sweat, toil, revolution, affected districts etc. I jumped on the STOP button then and there and have never touched the thing again. It has been lying undisturbed on my room-mate’s table for almost two weeks now.

4) GA’s jug – That is another one of those things my ex-room-mate left behind as part of his legacy. This is a brown-coloured water jug made up of brass which looks like something the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan would have loved to keep in his living room.

5) Someone’s headphones – Now this is slightly weird. Believers might take this as an act of God. Atheists, on the other hand, might shrug their shoulders and say that I need to pull my brain socks up and stop thinking too much.

Whatever you wish to take it as, here’s the story. I found this pair of Frontech headphones on my table last April. I have absolutely no idea how it got there. When I first saw them, I thought I was still half-asleep and seeing things. So I went off to brush my teeth and when I came back, they were still there. I left my room to bathe, came back, and they were there, as before. I stayed out all day, busy with lectures and labs, and in the evening, when I came back to my room, they hadn’t budged from their position even the wee bit.

Now all I want to say is that I never believed these headphones had supernatural power and would fly off suddenly, while I was away. But I thought that somebody might have left them on my table the previous night and would, sooner or later, come and claim it back. No one actually did; I call them my own now.

6) GSN’s slippers – That’s the latest import. A very simple pair, blue in colour, of Bata, made in India. It’s a very long story of how this ended up here and I’m too tired to write about it now. Maybe, I’ll put up another post with the details later. For the time being, let’s put it all down to Divine Will.

Well, that’s just six of them. There are countless other articles, some visible, some hidden which previously belonged to some other human being. As I've said before, I just brought them over here to add spice to the place, to my little museum.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Surface Extract

A piece of text from Siddhartha Deb’s Surface:

A long time ago, when the world was a far better place than it is now, there was a divine couple, a god and a goddess deeply in love with each other. Their love was so perfect that a quarrel broke out between the two about who loved the other more. Even the court of the gods couldn’t settle the dispute, so the two agreed to put their love to the test by being born in human form. The challenge was to see who recognized the other first. They would have no knowledge of their heavenly past, being in possession of nothing more than average human memories of their human lives.

They are born in different corners of the kingdom of Manipur, she as a princess, he as a commoner. The years of their childhood pass in ignorance of each other, without a single encounter. Then the commoner comes to the court from the village one day, and they meet accidentally in the palace, and they recognize each other in the same instant. Their love is still without imperfection, still equal, but just then a battle breaks out between factions in the court and both are killed in the fighting. The dispute is unresolved.

So they take birth as human beings again, and again, and again, and each time the same thing happens. They meet as adults, recognize each other instantaneously, the kingdom is pitched into a war, and they die in the ensuing battle. People in Manipur believe that when things are very bad in our human world, when it is a time of war, it means that the two are around in human form, slowly drifting towards each other. Each is looking at the other without really knowing it, attracted towards the partner by the force of their divine love, and the terrible battle of our times will coincide with their mutual discovery.

……Their coming together in the human world with death following immediately is a sign of the perfection of their love and how it can’t be contained within the imperfection of our world. But there will be a time when they meet and admit that it is a draw, that they love each other equally, and that there is no more or less for either of them. They will see, they will recognize their love for each other, and they will not die. When that happens and their contest is over, our world will end in the final apocalypse.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


Another straight question(s) –

What does it mean to be a man, at this present moment, with millions of millions come and gone before you, and countless yet to come?

What does it mean to be a man, in this age of mechanized power, of industrialization and of machines, where everything is automated and you’re there only to push the button?

What does it mean to be a man, with each one living an independent life, yet being so inevitably dependent on everything and everyone else?

What does it mean to be a man, when you’re an island and a parasite at the same time?

What does it mean to be a man, when you have no answers to any of the questions above?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Window

The room has just one Window, a big one, about four by four feet. Except that, there is nothing that qualifies even remotely as an outlet. No ventilator, no smoke chimney, not even a door. Just those four by four feet. Nothing more.

And a look out of the Window offers no beautiful gardens or landscape, no high-rise towers or buildings, no bazaar lanes, nothing in relation with the immediate world outside.

Just images.

It offers images, vivid and alive, of the past and the future, of childhood and of old age, of birth and of death. The pictures are personal, therefore engrossing. Each one stays there for about half a second, and then slowly fades away, being superimposed by the next one, before disappearing altogether.

The pictures offer insights into the years gone by, of childhood, like his first day in school and the hours he cried and cried, like how hard he held his mother by the waist when he first stood under a waterfall, and how his heart was filled with limitless pride when he bought his first novel with the earnings saved out of his monthly ‘pocket money’.

They also offer insights into the years to come, of the tension and turmoil of adult life, of a one-storey house with a narrow mud way leading to it, of one wife and two kids, and of death, cold and serene.

He can stare at the Window as long as he likes. Sometimes, so intriguing are the pictures, that he can’t move his eyes from it, even if he wishes to. Sometimes, they are too ugly or distasteful and the images change hastily, as if the Window was remote-controlled by his mind.

Interestingly, some keep coming back, from time to time, and he ponders over them for hours, like a ruminating cow does over a mouthful of grass.

They never cease. The Window is always open, always available, much to his pleasure and displeasure.

That’s all there is to the room. It’s a beautiful world. Four walls, a floor, a ceiling, the Window and him.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Bird's Eye View

There is something common about all contemporary Indian authors in the English language, be it Vikram Seth, Jhumpa Lahiri, Kiran Desai or Raj Kamal Jha, and that is that they have all spent a substantial amount of time outside India. Some have stayed there for education, some for work and some have made it their home, peeking in on India when they so desire. If you loosen the argument just the little bit, you can even include writers like V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie and Rohinton Mistry. They’re of course not Indian, like some of us do claim, but are of Indian ancestry nevertheless.

Some pretty big names, aren’t they?

The startling fact is that the above is true for most acclaimed Indian authors. There are very few who have spent their entire lives here and have still been able to come up with writing that is comparable to some of the masterpieces by the names taken above. Arundhati Roy and Pankaj Mishra, to name a couple. But there are too few, and why is that?

Living abroad didn’t necessarily improve their style of writing; I doubt if anyone else could ever produce a novel as powerful as Roy’s The God of Small Things. And also, it wasn’t that the years away from India helped them gain insights into the world inside and outside in ways they had never been aware of before.

Maybe, and I think I might be right here, those years in the West gave them that much-needed privilege, which is something we all wish we had, that is of being able to observe and understand something so personal to oneself from a distance. Maybe, this place is too complex and confusing to fully understand when you are living in it, as one of its countless little parts. Maybe, one needs a bird’s eye view, the chance to lose oneself in the maze completely, and yet not be overwhelmed by wild, uncontrollable emotion, the type which is bound to come when you think about this great country.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The End Is Not Near

When I was about 5-6 years old, one of my Mamaji’s friends seeing me with a pen in my hand, trying to solve a sum, had remarked – “Mat pakdo beta…mat pakdo…ek baar is cheez ko pakad liye to phir kabhi peechha nahi chodegi.

Words of wisdom, if there ever were any.

When I was in primary school, I was promised that mathematical tables and crappy essay assignments were only part of the learning curve; this would pass eventually and +2 is all about bunking classes, going to the theatres, having fun.

When I was in +2, I was promised that the Board exams were only a meaningless hurdle which had to be passed and passed gracefully nonetheless, that the nerve-shattering entrance examinations were that price I would have to pay for a comfortable life afterwards, that college comprises the best years of a person’s life, I was only to wait.

When I’m in college, I am promised that all I need to do is to work hard for good grades and get myself a nice job. A fat salary, nice start to my corporate career - everything’s going to be an easy ride after that. Life begins at 40, isn’t that how the famous saying goes?

I have this gut feeling that when I’m 40, I will be promised to slog it out for another decade or so; after all, I’ll have a family to take care of, the children’s education, big, never-ending loans to pay off and whatnot.

By the time I’m 60, thanks to Classic Regular, I guess lung cancer would surely have had its final say.

So tell me, my dear reader, when I’m dying, ready for the final goodbye, with the pen no more in my tired hands, will the priest at my deathbed promise me a happy, hassle-free afterlife? And more importantly, how credible would that last promise be?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Hard Way

“Not that way, moron!”, he says after about a minute of loud, non-stop laughter. I lie on the cement, feeling my bums, trying to smile, see the humour of it all.

This is my first try at skating. My friend had bought a pair of skates just the other day and he asked me if I would like to learn. He is pretty good at it, he has done it before.

I decide to give it a try. There are two round skating rings in the park opposite our apartment, each around seven or eight metres in diameter, with the floors made of cement, and boundaries lined with netted grills, probably to prevent novices like me from crashing out.

“The secret to skating and skating well is to keep year head slightly forward, ahead of your body, so that your entire weight is taking you in the direction you wish to go. You know, that way your Centre of Gravity…”


“Nothing. Just keep your head slightly forward. You can’t possibly fall on your back that way, and nobody falls forward really, unless he's stupid.”


I do exactly that. And as he had said, I don’t fall.


But he was wrong. I found that out this morning, on my way back from the galla. It had rained severely last night. With my Bata sandals so slippery that I might as well have been walking on two banana skins, it was hard trying to stay on my feet.

Then, I remembered what my friend had told me that day.

I jutted my head out in front, bending above the waist just that little bit. The little bit slowly became a little more, and more.

Result: I slipped on my toes, the Centre of Gravity got too far ahead, I think, forcing me down.

Lesson: When it rains and your footwear doesn’t have a good grip, you can fall either way, forwards or backwards.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"About A Night"

A straight question: What’s the most uncomfortable you have ever felt in your life?

Was it when you were sitting at the dentist last month, with your mouth embarrassingly wide open? Or when your father punished you for something once, when you were seven years old, asking you to stay watching the wall for ten eternal minutes? Or is it when you went to a get-together and the best friend you were depending on for company failed to show up, leaving you with a group of strangers, without anything to talk about? Or maybe when you waited with a container in your hand at Mother Dairy, waiting to get the coupon for the milk?

No. For me, it isn’t any of these. It is something more common, which happens too often to get used to it (no irony intended). It is when you lie awake in bed, sleepless. It is when your body is tired, you would love to get some sleep and wake up early, but your mind, restless as ever doesn’t let you free.

Like, for example…

It’s raining. You can hear the rain falling on the trees outside. It is cool, the fan’s running slowly, humming away, as it was meant to be a lullaby. You have the blanket over you, blocking the swing, making you feel all cosy, ready for some nice slumber.

But no, it won’t come that easily. What did you think? Twenty minutes go by. So you get up, switch the lights on, put on your t-shirt and go out to get some coffee. There is nothing else you can think of at that moment.

You come back after the little break but you find out, to your dismay that the coffee hasn’t helped at all. It has made matters even worse. Thanks to Nescafe, now you don’t feel like sleeping at all. But still you give it a chance. You lie down and it’s the same story again – rain, tip-tip, fan, blanket, cosy, no sleep. This time you accept the helplessness easily, you get up with the air of a man on a mission, who has just realised what he was sent down for. Fuck it, I shall not wait for sleep, shall try to pass time better, it’ll come when it has to.

You switch on the computer. Check your scraps on Orkut, there are no new ones. A new mail maybe, even if it’s a Sardarji joke, but no, nothing new there as well. You feel the sudden pinch of utter helplessness again. What am I doing, I should be trying to sleep. Wasting time waiting for people to mail me. Who’ll mail you at 2 A.M., fucker? After all, you checked your mail just an hour ago, didn’t you?

So things are back to square one again. Rain, tip-tip, fan, blanket, cosy, and of course no sleep. Stray thoughts enter your head now – the assignment to be submitted on Friday (god I don’t have a clue!), the school friend you didn’t even bother to call when you were at home last (what will I say if he asks me why?), the little nap you took in the afternoon (maybe that’s what's keeping me awake). These don’t help, they don’t induce sleep, only make time pass quicker.

Hell! I have spent almost an hour and a half in bed now. And things look no prettier. The bones are still heavy, the body aching, but crucially, the mind and eyes are as fresh as ever.

I wish I was like Papa. He falls asleep within five minutes of going to bed, irrespective of whether the TV is on at full volume or whether I’m playing Led Zeppelin in the adjoining room. Soon, you can hear him snoring away in bliss, oblivious to everything around. How does he do that?

Frustration slowly seeps in. There can’t be a worse feeling. It’s almost three already. There is a lecture at half past eight. But what can you do? You’re helpless, and you know it. That adds on to the frustration – being aware of the helplessness.

You close your eyes again. I can’t possibly fall asleep if I keep them open. So let me at least pretend that I’m preparing to sleep. Maybe I’ll fool Father Wakefulness by doing so, maybe he’ll think that I’ve already dozed off, and he’ll stop trying to pull me out of it.

My life’s a mess, it is. What is a man if he has no control over his own sleep? What good is winning the world, when you can’t even win such a small battle, over yourself, with only sleep as your adversary?

What good is anything?

P.S. – And then it comes, you don’t realise that final moment, you least expect it. Yes, it finally comes and you’re asleep. Your conscious calls it a day. Call it night.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bom Bom !

I hail from the capital, New Delhi as we all know it, the NCR as I sometimes call it (with one eyebrow slightly raised above the other). And I don’t claim that it’s something I’m ‘proud’ of, as that doesn’t make much sense. I moved to the place when I was six and a half years old, my father took up a job there, and coming to the big city was hardly a conscious decision on my part.

But having spent more than twelve adolescent years in and around the place, I have obviously developed feelings for it which can be labelled loosely as affection. I would be the first to concede that it has no inherent culture, not much greenery and natural beauty to boast of, and that it’s the country’s most unsafe city with its alarming crime rate, but it’s where I grew up and each joint and locality has memories attached to it, holds special significance.

So when I, a staunch ‘Delhi-ite’(don’t ask me to pronounce it !), hear someone go ga-ga over Bombay, ‘the financial capital of India’, the land of Bollywood, of the beautiful Nariman Point and Juhu Beach, my first reaction is to give him the I-couldn’t-care-less look, make a few nervous movements here and there and move out of the room saying that whatever it is, however grand the ‘necklace’ might be, it may have a thousand Hanging Gardens, but Bombay can never be what Delhi is, what the NCR is(the eyebrow is in action again).

But, as it turned out to be, when I went to the port city for the first time two years ago, to that ‘great, ruined metropolis’, I found my baseless defence melting away. For there in front of my eyes was a city which offered everything, which was a world to itself, a world of the beautiful and the ugly, of fire and ice, of the rich and the poor, and of everything that lies in between.

In Bombay, just as you get out of the air-conditioned comforts of the airport, you are confronted suddenly with something totally different. There are no towers, no buildings, nothing to suggest that you are now in one of India’s metropolitan cities. Just small, dirty-looking houses and slums, people sleeping on the pavements, some even on the road, inside temporary roadside tents and below the flyovers. People everywhere; much more than the city can afford. You are reminded suddenly of all you have read and seen in movies about Bombay over the years. Bombay is the city to which more and more people flock in every year, in search of a job, of food, shelter and security. They come from everywhere: some with hopes of getting into the film industry and many others with no clear objective at all. They live on the footpath, struggling to make ends meet, because even if the city wishes to, it can’t adopt them. Not anymore. The contrast is startling; on the right are high-rise apartments, on the left you have people sleeping amidst their own shit and piss.

The same contrast is written all over the city. For every Malabar Hill, there are a hundred Jogeshwaris, for every Infinity, there are a hundred Crawford Markets, for every Amitabh Bachchan, there are a million wanna-bes who keep trying unsuccessfully every day, settle down on the sidewalks, or in the slums. This violent collage of modern existence is exhilarating, when not disturbing. Bombay is, as Suketu Mehta describes it, the ‘Maximum City’.

And tell me, which city could present you with such amazing sights, as the one I witnessed sitting at the Hilton, of the people below walking along the seacoast, of families with the children holding colourful balloons, of couples strolling hand in hand, admiring the water, of old men, out for their evening walk, gossiping away like teenagers. That view, I remember distinctly, developed a sudden, violent urge within me to leave the air-conditioned restaurant, to leave my five-star coffee half-drunk, to get up from the heavily cushioned chair I was sitting on, to run down and do what those people were doing, talk and watch the sea.

All very romantic, you say, what about the problems, the horror of living in a city like Bombay? What about the floods you have there every monsoon, when the city breaks down, submerged up to the neck? What about the problem of living space, Abhinav? Have you forgotten how you and your cousin went running around Bombay looking for a flat to take shelter in, when you had given the poor chap a sudden visit last year? And have you also forgotten how wretched you felt at Crawford Market that day, with the rain belting down, and a million stall-keepers shouting in your ear? Remember how you swore that you’ll never set foot on this blasted piece of land again?

And I will nod, I will say yes, and then I will tell you that it is not the only thing that matters, that there is a certain kind of beauty the eyes cannot see, which only the heart can feel, that there is something beyond logic, something about the city which sucks you in, however clichéd it might sound, it is the city’s history, its dynamics, its spirit.

So would you be surprised, if I tell you that given the chance, when I grow up and have a job to call my own, I would like to have an apartment flat near Nariman Point, facing the sea, and that I would love to make weekend trips into the old city, uncovering secrets yet hidden about the ‘great, ruined metropolis’?

P.S. :

I call it Bombay, not Mumbai, and I have my reasons:

1) First and foremost, I am not a Shiv Sainik, nor wish to become one in the coming time.

2) Naming the city on the basis of it being a port, or a bay, sounds more logical than naming it after some goddess called Mumba Devi.

3) And yes, to bring out the hidden sentimentalist in me, Bombay sounds romantic; has been its name for quite a long period of time. Names, like places and people, have histories behind them, and the past cannot be erased all of a sudden by a bill passed in the parliament.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Girl at Andheri

She stood at the side of the road outside the Andheri railway station. I, with my cousin, had just got down from the auto to catch a local to Bombay Central.

She wore a short-sleeved top and a pant, the colours of each being hard to guess. They might have been white originally, maybe light pink or maybe even blue. All they looked to me now in the limited visibility the street lights provided was dirty brown, at some places dark and at some places light, in patches all over the cloth. Her hair looked brown too, but the yellow light above gave it a somewhat orangish touch. Her face was beautiful - innocence written all over. From her two eyes came out two thick drops of water, both heading down but vanishing before they reached her mouth. On the face still were the dried remains of many such drops her eyes had shed during the day. And of course, she had nothing beneath her feet.

She was thin and small. Not more than 7-8 years old – I’d have thought.

She held her hand out shyly. She was asking me for money.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Kudo Thakur

His name was Kudo Thakur. A barber by caste, he had been so all his life. From age 15 to age 70. In his own words - “From when my hands learnt the trade to the time when the same hands started shaking when I picked up the scissors.”

But he was a very old man now. He said he thought he was something like 80, but he looked more like 120 to me. Most of his teeth were gone. And it seemed that the ones which were still there were so only out of goodwill and respect for the man. All of them jutted out, irrespective of whether he was smiling or frowning. All that was left of the face were those sagging wrinkles. If there was a competition for the World’s Most Wrinkled Man, Kudo Thakur would have bagged the first prize for sure. The hands and legs were as thin as thin can be, you could easily circle his legs with your palm, and make your thumb and index finger meet, like they do with their hands at the pillar near Qutab Minar.

Surprisingly, he wasn’t bald. Not by a long way. Specks of white on his head shone in the sun and I think I even spotted some which were still black. This for a man who had almost lived the entire last century ! He carried a stick with him, a piece of wood really, pieces peeling off the surface all over. I couldn’t help noticing that his stick was as thick as his two legs, so that if you saw his silhouette, you might just be deceived into thinking that he had three of them, three legs or three sticks to stand on.

Everyday, while I was there in the village, he would come early morning and evening, and sit there on the bench in the veranda, gazing at everything around him. I found his stare somewhat uncomfortable at times, his head always positioned slightly forward, aggressively, as if he was a teacher, asking you why the homework for the weekend wasn’t complete. He had a constant expression on his face, what I would regard now as a cross between a jovial smile and a disgusted frown. I remember thinking to myself that if Kudo Thakur had to laugh or cry at something, the expression on his face would remain exactly the same. One face for all emotions. One expression to express all expressions.

“I have shaved your Nanaji’s head too, once, when he was even younger than you are”, he told me one day. I gave him an as-if-I-believe-you look. For me, small that I was, the image of Kudo Thakur shaving my Nanaji’s head, with a pair of scissors in his hand and the mirror in front, was not that easy to imagine. He was the oldest man in the village, one person who had watched everyone else grow and many perish before him. He was conscious of this fact, he seemed proud of it.

I took his presence in the village home as granted. So when, a few years back, I hadn’t seen him since I had arrived in the village, I asked my grandfather where he was.

He was dead. No one knows whether he completed the century, or just failed to do so by a year or two. Even Kudo Thakur himself wouldn’t have known, I imagine.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Dark Man

I climb up the stairs and step into the medical store. Its name is 98.4 degrees, one of the many such private outlets that have risen around Delhi in the last few years. The tagline, just below the company logo of a hand holding a flame, says Your Chemists For Life.

I walk to the counter. There are two men, one sitting on a stool and the other standing up, both in white coats, as if they were doctors at a hospital (Lets call them White Coat 1 and White Coat 2 respectively, for convenience). White Coat 2 takes the prescription from my hand, studies it briefly and then goes over to the racks at the corner of the room.

Meanwhile, a little, dark man, (And we shall call him Dark Man) in a white shirt and navy blue trousers enters through the glass door. He then pauses, gives everyone present a glance, looking conscious of the fact that everyone’s eyes are on him too. Dark Man is short in height; he looks ragged, sweat dripping from his forehead, visible on his eyebrows. His overall demeanour doesn’t betray the first impression that he is at maximum, only a peon or chapraasi. He walks quietly towards the two White Coats, taking position alongside me. After pausing again for a second or two, he takes a piece of white paper out of his breast pocket and murmurs something to White Coat 1. He hardly seems to take notice, not even looking up from his register, in which he seems to be making some sort of entry. Dark Man doesn’t look hurt, gives me a slightly embarrassed glance and stares back at White Coat 1, still holding the piece of paper.

White Coat 2 now comes back with what I asked for. He shows them to White Coat 1, who then looks at them and proceeds to make the receipt. White Coat 2 then puts the two strips of medicine into a white envelope and hands it over to me. My turn over, I expect him now to listen to what Dark Man wants. He doesn’t and Dark Man, still as courteous as he was initially, murmurs something again.

Just then, a tall, burly man (Let’s call him exactly that, the Tall Burly Man) enters through the door. Nonchalantly, he walks over to the counter and hands over the doctor’s prescription to White Coat 2. As with me, White Coat 2 gives him an affirmative nod and leaves to get the medicine.

White Coat 1 finally has everything ready for me. He gives me the receipt, I say “Thank You” and turn towards the door.

As I’m about to get into the car, I can’t stop myself from giving the shop one last look. I see Dark Man standing there, leaning over the table, still looking humbly at White Coat 1 the way he was earlier. Tall Burly Man, meanwhile, gets his receipt made.